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What is Habitat Destruction? - Effects, Definition & Causes

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  • 0:01 What Is Habitat Destruction?
  • 1:10 Types of Habitat Destruction
  • 1:35 Causes of Habitat Destruction
  • 5:30 Effects of Habitat Destruction
  • 6:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Robson

Kelly has taught High School Science and Applied Communications. She holds an Education Specialist Degree in Ed. Leadership.

There are many types of habitat destruction that can change entire ecosystems. Habitat destruction can even wipe out an entire species instantly. This lesson covers what habitat destruction is, its effects, and what causes it to happen.

What is Habitat Destruction?

A habitat is the natural place where plants, animals, or other organisms live; it is where they call home. This is the living area necessary for an ecosystem to remain healthy. Destruction means to change something so much that it can no longer exist as it once was. So, when we put the two definitions together we get: habitat + destruction = a home to species that has been changed to the point it no longer exists.

Habitat destruction occurs when enough change has happened to an area that it can no longer support the natural wildlife. This change can actually be in many forms, including destruction, fragmentation, and degradation. But no matter how it happens, the plants, animals, and other organisms whose habitat has been destroyed no longer have a home.

Another important term to know is ecosystem. An ecosystem is a group of species that interact with each other in a living area. This living area is necessary for their survival as a healthy ecosystem. This lesson describes types, causes, and effects of destroying this living area.

Types of Habitat Destruction

There are different types of habitat destruction that can occur. Three main types are actual destruction, fragmentation, and degradation. All three types of habitat destruction can be just as lethal. Some take longer to completely destroy a habitat and some destroy the habitat instantly. In this lesson, you will learn about what causes these different types of habitat destruction.

Causes of Habitat Destruction

Picture a bulldozer pushing its way through the woods, creating flat open land so that a wooded area can be turned into a subdivision or office building. As the bulldozer is knocking down trees, it is also crushing grasses and packing the ground super tight. The bulldozer is not only killing the trees and other plants that it is running over, but it is killing the living area of multiple species. This is just one example of habitat destruction, known simply as destruction. Destruction is instant and the species have little to no time to adapt. The animals must move if they are to survive at all. Plants must adapt to the newly compacted land or find a way to disperse their seeds elsewhere.

Another example of instant destruction to habitats is when humans fill in wetlands. We fill in wetlands usually to construct other buildings, such as work spaces or houses. Sometimes it is the law that if you are filling in a wetland in one area, then you must create a new wetland area somewhere else. However, wetlands are home to some of the most diverse ecosystems and many species are destroyed in this process. Mowing fields and cutting trees are other examples of instant habitat destruction.

When roads or dams are created the habitat is altered, but not completely destroyed. This type of habitat destruction is called fragmentation. Fragmentation is when the habitat is broken up into pieces or fragments. A road could cut the area of the habitat in half and cause the species a lack of options in which to mate with. This type of destruction can also cause a lack of resources for food. Migratory species need a place to rest when they are moving from one area to another. When the land or water is shrunk down due to roads or dams, then their options of resting areas is limited. Fragmentation is not as instant as destruction, but it can be fatal to many species.

Picture a wetland area that is home to a bunch of frogs. Let's say about 100 frogs to keep it simple. If a road was put in the middle of the wetland, it might split these 100 frogs into two groups of 50. It might not seem that bad, but let's say the frogs' favorite food ended up on one side of the road. 50 of the frogs are either going to have to only eat the food that remains on their side or risk crossing the road. If the frogs cross the road, then there is going to be more frogs on less land. The road alters the habitat for the frog. They have decisions to make and sometimes the choices are slim and dangerous.

Like destruction and fragmentation, degradation can also cause habitat destruction. This type of destruction is not always as easy to see as destruction and fragmentation. Instead, degradation is when a habitat becomes polluted or is invaded by a non-native species, otherwise known as an invasive species. Degradation is when something interrupts the ecosystem process and starts a chain reaction to the point that the habitat can no longer support wildlife.

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